This book was practically un-put-downable. Not because I was driven to find out what happens next -- like a Finder, or Child etc. This is one of those kind of books you don't want to put down because you don't want to leave that world, not for a minute, to step back into this one, as nice as it is -- filled with your stuff, and your great wife and frequently tolerable children. But this book's little corner of Appalachia that touches another world (in more ways than one) is a place you just want to exist in. Granted, I'd rather be in one of the earlier books than this one (not a reflection of the quality of the book, just the events portrayed).
Not all that long ago, especially by Tufa standards, Bo-Kate Wisby and her beau, Jefferson Powell wreaked all sorts of havoc. They were so terrible that they were banished from the community, unable to return -- or, worst of all, make music. WHen you think of some of the despicable things that have happened or have been described in the previous two novels by citizens in good standing, you get an idea just how bad this was. Both have spent decades yearning to return, to play music -- but have had to settle for incredibly successful careers in the music business. Which would be a special kind of torture and pleasure -- being that close but not able to partake, still being able to appreciate it though. Somehow, however, this curse was lifted without anyone realizing it.
Well, anyone but Bo-Kate. She returns to get revenge and bow the Tufa to her will, destroying their heritage, their way of life and instituting her own. Her approach is not subtle, she clearly learned a little bit from the "Shock and Awe" tactics of a recent war. My jaw almost dropped when i saw the first step that was taken by Bo-Kate. I -- like most of the Tufa -- didn't think that was possible, or at least likely. Although there was something to appreciate about that action, there wasn't in the rest of what she did to the community -- I can't think of any fictional character I've had such a visceral reaction to (especially this quickly) this side of Joffrey Lannister Baratheon, first of his name.
It should go without saying with this world, the way the rest of the Tufa respond and defend themselves isn't how you'd expect. Which goes double for how things play out. Thankfully, I did really enjoy the rest of the Wisbys -- especially Bo-Kate's sister. I hope to spend more time with them. Actually, I liked getting to know all the new characters -- including Bo-Kate's allies (or those characters who weren't new, but we hadn't really spent time with). The characters in this community are so well drawn, so real that you almost don't need a plot to enjoy a book about them.
As always, I'm jealous of the relationship between these people and music. I don't have it -- a couple of my kids do, at least. I think the way the two banished Tufa react to their returning musical ability tells you almost everything you need to know about them. These are books that need to come with their own score, their own soundtrack. Sadly, I don't think humans are capable of putting out anything worthy of the books. As good as some of the music inspired by this series has been, it's not good enough to live up to Tufa standards.
Two things that detracted from the book for me. First is the sex. Not that Bledsoe's a model of Victorian attitudes toward sex before this, but Long Black Curl is pretty sexually explicit -- moreso and more often than before (I'm reasonably sure, but am not interested enough to go back and check). I don't think it was necessary, but don't think it hurt things. It was just one of those things that seemed to stick out to me.
Secondly, this is absolutely the most straight-forward of the series, which is both a strength and a weakness. It's more accessible. There's almost no doubt whatsoever whats going on. The previous two books haven't been exactly subtle about the magic and how it works out in the lives of the Tufa -- but (and I'm struggling to express this the way I want to) they mostly just let us see what happened and say "hey, that's magic." There's some winking and nudging, but primarily the reader has to do the heavy lifting. To switch metaphors, Bledsoe gave us all the numbers and equations, but we had solve for x on our own. But here? It's all spelled out. It's somewhat refreshing, but a little disappointing, too.
But that's just a little tarnish to the series. It's still one of the best out there. This book changes the world, but not so much that you won't recognize it -- this is all about growth, development. It does my heart good to know that Bledoe is writing #5 at the moment, so we've got at least a few hundred more pages of this world to come.
You can absolutely start here, but I think you'd be better off starting with the first, The Hum and the Shiver to you can catch all the nuance and atmosphere and all that. What it means that character X shows up and does Y. That kind of thing. Either way, dive into this world.